The Occupy movement has taken root in major cities across the world, in small towns across America and even in our fields and pastures! No matter what your political affiliation, there’s no denying the facts: corporations have taken control of the vast majority of our wealth, our jobs, and our political power. And as folks who have worked to end the corporate control of agriculture for 26 years, we at Farm Aid can’t help but equate this economic inequality to our food system.
Just four corporations control 84% of beef packing and 66% of pork production, and Monsanto alone controls more than 93% of soybeans and 80% of corn grown in the United States. Family farmers are expected to serve all of us good food at cheap prices in a political and economic climate that does not serve their interests. These farmers, less than 2% of the population in this country, are facing record corporate concentration in the agricultural markets, unpredictable fluctuation in the marketplace and unfair contracts from corporations in order to eke out a living off of the land. America’s food system is ripe for change; the time is now!
On Sunday, Farm Aid joined hundreds of fellow farm advocacy groups, food justice organizations, activists, eaters, and most importantly, family farmers, from across rural and urban America for the Occupy Wall Street Farmers’ March. In La Plaza Cultural Community Garden farmers and activists spoke out against the devastating effects that corporate control has had on the health of eaters, our natural resources, family farm agriculture and our economy before marching together to Zuccotti Park. The gathering brought awareness to the issues, but also celebrated the resilience and innovation of family farmers and fostered inspiration and a vision for a better future for agriculture free from corporate control.
Mike Callicrate, a rancher and rural advocate from Kansas, attributed the loss of farmers across the U.S. as a direct result of corporate control. “In the last thirty years we have lost ninety percent of our pork producers...we’ve lost over forty percent of our ranchers; we’ve lost over eighty percent of our dairymen because of big, corporate, abusive power.” But, Mike finds hope for America’s family farmers in the Occupy movement. “What I see happening with Occupy Wall Street is a transition taking place, from people being these ravenous, aggressive, price shopping consumers transitioning and transforming into citizens. It is not something to be critical of; it is something to build upon...Big Money is in control of everything. It’s about profit over people. It is now time for us to fix it.”
Jim Gerritsen, a Maine seed farmer, has fought against corporate control in the fields where he harvests non-GMO, organic seed, and in the courtroom where he is lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against biotech giant, Monsanto. He knows a thing or two about how corporate domination affects all of us in the food system. “The corporate control of our economy, of our government, the joblessness that they’ve created and the exit from the farms is directly related to concentration of corporations in agriculture. The quality of the food you’re getting and the fact that farm gate prices are low and that grocery store prices are high, this is all attributable to the corporate dominance of Big Ag.”
Like Mike, Jim feels that all farmers, eaters and activists, “have a stake in this and its time that we take this back. The corporations are not going to give it up willingly, but we need to go ahead and assert our control and fix this broken system...This Occupy movement has become the conscience of America. The farmers in America support this movement and see the system is not working and it’s got to be corrected.”
Honk bands and drummers accompanied the marchers waving their signs from La Plaza to Zuccotti Park where folks swapped heirloom seeds, enjoyed a farm-fresh meal together and stepped up to the Peoples’ Microphone to voice their commitment to Occupy the Food System. Farm Aid’s Farm Advocate, Joel Morton, reminded everyone present that despite the challenges we face in fixing our broken food system “family farmers are a source of hope. They grow healthy food, build local economies and care for the soil and water. There is a growing demand for family farmed food, but we will never know a healthy food system until we establish a healthy economy for family farmers...Our food and farms are too important to be put into the hands of a few corporations.”
The Occupy movement started by focusing on the banking system, but the truth is corporate control extends to all facets of our live. Since Farm Aid started in 1985, the control of our food system by corporations has exploded. Farmers being involved in bringing attention to this issue is nothing new. Farmers, perhaps more than anyone, know the damage that corporate concentration causes. For more information, click here and here.